When I was asked to write an article centered on this month’s theme, which is the Celtic people and the Druids, I was hesitant to do so. My hesitancy stemmed from exposure to claims made by modern or “neo” Druids early in my magickal practice. Many early followers of neo-Druidry claimed to possess “secret” knowledge and/or lineage and tradition that had been passed down to them from the original Druids of Western Europe and the British Isles. These early claims were plain and simply lies and made-up stories. Because of these false claims, I came to distrust these followers and even developed distaste for the entire concept of a modern Druidic order. In essence, I became biased and prejudiced against the demographic of the neo-pagan population that referred to themselves as Druids. The hard truth is that we know little or nothing about the original Druids and what they practiced and believed in. Druidic lore was passed down orally, and not a single Bardic verse or written document linked to the Druids has ever been discovered in its entirety. Even Druidic legend is the byproduct of Roman and Christian interpretation and coloring. Almost everything we know about the Druids of old is conjecture and anthropological theory. I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why so many neo-Druids were falsely laying claim to knowledge and understanding of an extinct culture and religion that left no written records of their practices. Don’t neo-pagans have enough trouble being taken seriously without such nonsense and fairytales? I would often ask myself. I was also having a hard time understanding why so many peaceful, earth-loving neo-pagans were relating themselves to the Celts, who were a warrior race. It is however, the nature of humans to glamorize and romanticize the past, and things are changing.
Leaving my bias and prejudice in the past where it belongs, I have a newfound respect and appreciation for modern Druids. Teachers and authors such as Isaac Bonewits, R.J. Stewart, and John Michael Greer are doing their best to clean up the appalling mess left by many neo-druid authors, posers, and wannabes. The following quote from Mr. Greer sums up their efforts nicely: “Ancient Celtic cultures and the world they inhabited no longer exist. If Druidry is to have a future, it must start with a clear awareness that today’s Druids live in the modern world”. Well put! Instead of laying claim to something that has been lost to us, modern Druids such as Mr. Greer are utilizing what little knowledge we possess of the past to draw inspiration instead of absolutes. They are taking a spiritual and levelheaded approach to Druidry, and appear to have their feet firmly planted in the practical and the real. This approach is inspirational and demands respect. Their work has renewed my trust and interest in modern Druidry, and I for one am grateful for their efforts.
Being neither a student nor teacher of Druidry, there is very little if anything I can share with you on the subject other than anthropological fact. What I can share with you is this: If someone claims to have all of the answers, turn and walk away. If someone claims that they have the “one true path” to spirituality, question their motives and their sanity. If someone claims that they can guide you to the divine, ask them how they could possibly understand what divinity means to you.
We live in a world of ever-changing morals, ethics, and belief systems. Many of us have discovered, or are discovering, that there is no such a thing as a “one size fits all” religion. We are discovering that even though history has tried to teach us otherwise, we have more in common with each other than not. Every culture, religion, and age has produced or was inspired by great prophets and great teachers, and there are valuable lessons that can be learned from all of them. Just like the ancient Druids however, it’s important to keep in mind that over the ages much of the teachings of these prophets has been lost, mutated, interpreted, and reinterpreted. But just as many modern Druids have learned to do, we can choose be inspired by the ghosts of the past rather than preoccupied with them.